King of underground films.
Nick Zedd is a revolutionary filmmaker, writer, painter, actor, political satirist , journalist and First Minister of Protocol for the Cinema of Transgression, a movement he spearheaded in New York 25 years ago and whose reverberations are still being felt across the globe.
Using multiple pseudonyms, Zedd edited and published the groundbreaking UNDERGROUND FILM BULLETIN from 1984 to 1990, hand coloring the covers of each issue, adorned with portraits he drew of local eminences within.
On the pages of this hand xeroxed “crudzine” Zedd penned the Cinema of Transgression Manifesto and invented a forum for the most scathing and subversive ideas emerging from the avant garde of that time.
Zedd is considered a genius for formulating a strategy of subversion that empowered a group of guerilla filmmakers to circumvent the institutional indifference of dominant culture and “the censorship of omission” corrupting communication s through “the shared hallucination of consensus reality” by organizing an insurgency and creating a new media to document it. In the process he introduced the “transgression” meme that has so dominated critical thought in our culture for the last quarter century.
Through the vehicle of innovative movies like his two-screen WAR IS MENSTRUAL ENVY and low budget 16mm gems like ECSTASY IN ENTROPY, Zedd employs shock value in the service of xenomorphosis, a term he coined to describe what happens when the “domain wall of an alternate universe smashes your reality tunnel and neurological re-engineering occurs.” In these films a “union of opposites” provokes cognitive dissonance or atavism causing viewers and participants to change from within.
“Alienating myself in complete darkness to the abstract world of Nick Zedd’s bewildering pornography, I had a vision, and here’s what I saw: Plagues being dispensed at a hasty rate, sort of like a gushing bang from a hot spring geyser, or an ejaculating dick. About the time I’m viewing a tongue twirling around a tit with two nipples, the prophecy of deformity from man-made clones appears rather vividly. Blood dripping from a slit wrist, mostly onto the mildew caked floor, made me conclude that unexpected death and nuclear warfare are the least of our worries from human negligence. Nick Zedd has purposely portrayed that he is not a director. He is more of a prophet, clearly depicting his visions for the views of humanity,” stated Chase Spring in Sleazegrinder.
“Nick Zedd makes violent, perverted art films from Hell- he’s my kind of director!” – John Waters
“There is a tremendous energy and unbound, uninhibited imagination present in his work…forbidden, maybe even evil, perverted, ungodly,” said Jonas Mekas.
It is this mind blowing experience of viewing his films, described in Zedd’s Theory of Xenomorphosis that has created a legion of followers among a far flung cognoscenti, as well as a plethora of critical appreciations: (DEATHTRIPPING by Jack Sargeant, ART THAT KILLS by George Petros and the documentaries NO AGE NEW YORK, LLIK YOUR IDOLS and BLANK CITY all explore the influence of Zedd’s insurgent , satanic, hedonistic and hermetic work.)
Combining forces with Henry Rollins (who published his autobiography TOTEM OF THE DEPRAVED), Richard Kern (with whom he co-directed and starred in THRUST IN ME) ; Sonic Youth (for the soundtrack of WHOREGASM); Lydia Lunch (THE WILD WORLD OF LYDIA LUNCH); Richard Hell (GEEK MAGGOT BINGO); Annie Sprinkle, Taylor Mead and Rev Jen in the cable TV series ELECTRA ELF; and collaborating with the latter in the making of such spoofs as LORD OF THE COCK RINGS and I WAS A QUALITY OF LIFE VIOLATION, Nick Zedd has produced a magic theatre for our time while eluding the critical scrutiny of newspapers, schools, museums, galleries, magazines and mainstream media for decades. He is a people’s auteur.
“Nick Zedd’s films are legendary—he is a truly seminal figure in the New York underground. Now we have his first book, (Totem of the Depraved) and I recommend it to anyone interested in the rough underside of our overly processed culture.” – Jim Jarmusch
In his under-the-radar status as an intentional amateur making new discoveries, Zedd produced such uncompromising work as a film version of Nietsche’s THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA and a DV short entitled TOM THUMB that clearly influenced a feature by Pedro Almadovar.
Other films bearing the influence of Zedd include Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and a Pizza Hut commercial that ripped off a shot of a guy being run over by a giant cheese ball from an episode of ELECTRA ELF.
Zedd’s outspoken analysis of existence has made him both a pariah and a visionary to many, especially in the post 9-11 era of conformity and mass deception.
“As consumers we are being daily subjected to a gigantic Simulation, designed by a global elite to strip us of our autonomy through mental addiction to social networking sites, reality television, sporting events and false political struggles with preordained outcomes reinforcing a cosmetically changing status quo. Through the ingestion of disinformation we’ve become victims of the science of mind control in which we appear to make our own decisions interactively while unknowingly being subjected to useless distractions from increasingly diverse sources, enabling us to feel united with unseen friends on websites designed to monitor our preferences and reinforce the illusion of personal freedom. The end result of this massive, near religious embrace of information siphoned thru computer screens is a passive population kept off the streets (except to work and purchase products,) politically castrated yet content ed through adoration of leader icons (actors, politicians, singers, models, sports figures and other pawns of corporate sponsors and unseen puppet masters,)” says Zedd.
As an authentic dissident, Zedd has paid an enormous price, operating between the cracks in a virtual underground, demonized or hidden by a dominant culture terrified of genuine revolt.
Film textbooks in Italy feature Zedd on their covers. Filmmakers in Turkey and Brazil send him fan mail. Books have been published in England about him, and yet Zedd insists he is not actually famous.
“That only happens when people’s mothers know who you are.”
In a rare anomaly, Zedd presented a retrospective of films one night at the Museum of Modern Art in 1989.
“I was shocked that the auditorium was full of people. The audience was even more shocked once they saw my films.”
A print of one of his most powerful movies, POLICE STATE is in the permanent collection of MOMA.
Included in Zedd’s “greatest hits” dvd ABNORMAL, POLICE STATE tells the story of a rebellious kid picked up on the streets of the Lower East Side by an overeager cop played by the late Willoughby Sharp. At a local precinct , the kid (Zedd) meets a rotating clutch of sadistic cops played by Attica vet Flip Crowley and the late Rockets Redglare who engage him in a frightening and hilarious series of tests designed to destroy his mind.
A black comedy addressing police brutality, POLICE STATE cemented Zedd’s reputation as a true anarchist and political satirist prior to the infamous Tompkins Square police riots that devastated the community and helped forge a short lived resistance to government sponsored gentrification on the Lower East Side. Around this time, Zedd forged an alliance with squatters and broke into an empty building to establish one of the local homesteads that survive to this day as an alternative to the feudal system of landlordism that oppresses millions of people in capitalist countries. Zedd has identified predatory capitalism, state terrorism, corporate globalization and landlordism as the main sources of oppression to be overcome by revolutionary means.
Other filmmakers have solicited Zedd to appear in their movies. He has acted in SUBMIT TO ME NOW, WHAT ABOUT ME (co-starring Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee Ramone, Richard Hell & Gregory Corso), SHADOWS IN THE CITY (co-starring Jack Smith, Emile DeAntonio and Kembra Pfahler), JONAS IN THE DESERT (co-starring Blixa Bargeld and Nina Hagen) and many others.
Zedd’s writing is featured in the anthologies Low Rent, Captured, Up Is Up But So Is Down, Underground USA, No Such Thing as a Free Ride (A Collection of Hitchhiking Tales) and Radium (from Sweden.)
Collections of his movies include STEAL THIS VIDEO (released by Film Threat in the 90’s), ABNORMAL: THE SINEMA OF NICK ZEDD (Rubric, 2001), GEEK MAGGOT BINGO, WAR IS MENSTRUAL ENVY and GENERATION Z (all on MVD).
A 4 disc boxed set of Zedd’s television series THE ADVENTURES OF ELECTRA ELF will be released by MVD in April.
Zedd briefly fronted a “noise unit” called ZYKLON B in 1999/2000 making digital hardcore music, and released a single on Rubric Records entitled CONSUME OR DIE which has since become a valuable collectors item.
In the last two years Zedd has reinvented himself as a painter and clothing designer, selling custom made hoodies, t-shirts, and skirts online and occasionally in stores. Current designs can be purchased at his website nickzedd.com which also features his writing and videos for sale.
My first encounter with Nick Zedd took place one night in the basement of a rock n’ roll club on Eldridge where my friend Isabell’s band was scheduled to play. In between acts, his startling movies were being projected onto a screen in front of the stage, depicting a nude woman painted orange having sex with an octopus.
Shots of deformed fetuses preceded a montage of war casualties; images of living soldiers with half their faces blown off; the kind of clinical examination that is strictly taboo on television, movies and most of the world wide web on the grounds of “bad taste.” In truth, such prohibitions can be attributed to the fact that war is a profitable enterprise for the arms industry, private security firms and robber barons who control the content of all corporate media.
(Perpetual war for perpetual peace must never be questioned by the masses.)
Intrigued by the avalanche of images jumping off the screen in violation of an unspoken edict that in all public places one must “get stupid” “go with the program” and “don’t worry, be happy,” I approached the tall, thin projectionist dressed in a black blazer and pink ruffled shirt and requested an interview. To my relief, he agreed.
Q: When did you start making films and what was your first one?
A: In 1979 I made a feature in Super-8 called THEY EAT SCUM, followed the next year by a short called THE BOGUS MAN that dealt with a CIA plot to clone the President.
Q: What was it like back then as opposed to now? Warhol had an enormous impact on underground films in the sixties, then got shot and seemed more interested in making money doing portraits of dictators and their wives while hobnobbing with the jet set in the seventies.
A: A void had to be filled after the sixties ended. The media turned the other way when punk happened. As a result, making money stopped being a factor in the equation for creating anything. This freed us in the making of things that were new and dangerous.
There’s a purity of vision when what you are doing is being done for fun, as a learning experience, which is the essence of amateurism, a much maligned term. Every child knows this. Adults try to beat it out of them. The amateur is the one who makes the discoveries and advances all human thought . This has been demonstrated throughout history.
Professionalism is a curse; a straightjacket stifling innovation, and the dependence upon it by artists, politicians and and those in power has left us bereft of excitement, surprise or joy. My work is an antedote to this malaise.
There are far too many people nowadays posing as filmmakers, waiting for enough money or hardware to complete their goals. I live in the land of “show me.” Otherwise shut up.
Q: How have you been reaching an audience in the last 5 years?
A: I infiltrated the open mike scene and made a bunch of movies using local comedians, shooting with digital video cameras I borrowed, until I could afford to buy my own equipment.
The best places to shoot in and screen to audiences always turned out to be in the most precarious positions, getting closed down by authorities or demolished by hostile landlords. It seemed to be some kind of universal law. But I’d suck every bit of creative energy out of the place before that happened, then move onto the next place or hibernate and go back to writing or start something new like painting.
The cracks in the façade of our prison planet branch out in unexpected directions.
When I got locked out of every place in NY, I created a low budget tv series and put it on public access channels where I ended up reaching an even wider audience..
Q: What was this TV series about?
A: THE ADVENTURES OF ELECTRA ELF is a satirical action/adventure focusing on a talking chihuaha named Fluffer who flies around on a winged skateboard with her master, a super elf, whose secret identity is Jennifer Swallows, reporter for ASS magazine. In many episodes they confront a variety of villains like Bipolar Bear, a heavily tranquilized neurotic frustrated by recurrent mood swings; Maggot Master, a big worm who manufactures tourists to take over neighborhoods or Tantalus, an ex lady wrestler who flies around on a bat with a nazi frog named Gangreen.
In NO PLAGUE LIKE HOME, we expose the global elite’s plan to introduce trackable , traceable microchips in children as a means of extending a world control grid of universal surveillance.
A pontificating alien on a miniature flying saucer informs us of the dangers inherent to TV viewing, as your brain enters an alpha state within 30 seconds, turning off all critical capability rendering you ripe for brainwashing. The 9-11 inside job is examined later in the program.
Q: How can viewers outside of NY see these episodes?
A: A boxed set should be out in April, distributed by MVD.
Q: How was it working with Warhol star Taylor Mead in ECSTASY IN ENTROPY and the inventor of punk rock Richard Hell in your film GEEK MAGGOT BINGO?
A: Highly rewarding. Taylor is great at silent movie acting, mugging for the camera, plus he works for free.
Richard was very adept at reading the idiot cards when he played a cowboy lost in the woods.
Q: Do you frequently rely on idiot cards for actors who won’t memorize lines?
A: Absolutely. We can’t afford radio mikes or teleprompters. If only the actors could memorize lines we could save a fortune in poster paper and magic markers.
Q: Are there any Mexican films you could recommend?
A: WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY and ALUCARDA come to mind, and anything with Lorena Vasquez who I got to meet at a festival of Mexican sci fi kitsch in Tribeca recently. She seemed to be ashamed of her own movies, which we loved.
Q: Are there any other movies or TV you’d recommend to our readers?
A: Anything by Coffin Joe in Brazil. I’m also a big fan of a Japanese series from the sixties called JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT. And of course the greatest TV series until ELECTRA ELF arrived, the original DARK SHADOWS.
I quite liked ZEITGEIST and anything by Alex Jones, especially THE OBAMA DECEPTION, TERRORSTORM, MARTIAL LAW and ENDGAME.
Q: Since your long running TV series just ended, what have you been up to?
A: I started painting canvases in oil, a new medium for me.
I’d recommend it to anyone looking to reinvent themselves; change the medium. I recently started making a line of custom clothes too.
I’m open to DJing again and putting on multimedia shows with video and film projections should anyone clued in be listening.